First Look

Chief of staff to L.A. sheriff resigns over 'deeply troubling' emails

Los Angeles is the second major police department in California to be rocked by scandal involving racist and offensive messages in recent months.

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    Though Tom Angel, chief of staff for Sheriff Jim McDonnell, apologized for what he did, the apology is ringing hollow for some activists.
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Less than a months after a second racist texting scandal rocked the San Francisco Police Department, Los Angeles’s police force is facing its own.

Tom Angel, the chief of staff to Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, has stepped down after public records revealed that he forwarded emails mocking minorities, Muslims, and women when he was second in command at the police department in Burbank, Calif.

Sheriff McDonnell previously said he didn’t plan to discipline Mr. Angel, but in a statement Sunday the sheriff said he had accepted Ange's resignation and called his emails “deeply troubling."

The Los Angeles Times obtained the emails – sent between 2012 and 2013 – through a public records request. One joked about black and Mexican people filling jail cells. Another said "towels for hats" is the reason "Muslim terrorists are so quick to commit suicide." 

Angel said he was sorry if he offended anyone and that he didn’t intended for the emails to become public.

But now that they have, McDonnell said he will use the opportunity to review the police department’s training and policies. This includes introducing random audits of department email accounts and meetings with community groups to expose the department to the "many ethnicities and religions that are part of the vibrant fabric of the population we serve," McDonnell said.

This incident comes on the heels of a prolonged scandal that exposed racist and homophobic attitudes among several officers of the San Francisco Police Department.

In transcripts of the messages, which were released as part of a criminal investigation, five officers denigrated minorities with racial slurs and insulted colleagues perceived to be gay. They ridiculed black people in Ferguson, Mo., where police killed an unarmed black man. There are also photographs with racist captions.

The revelation of those messages came just months after the department took a pledge against intolerance and racism. That vow was spurred by another scandal involving officers' sending offensive text messages that came to light last year.

On Friday, San Francisco's police chief, Greg Suhr, told reporters that he has ordered all officers to complete an anti-harassment class within the next month.

"The vast majority of police officers are shaken," Chief Suhr told the Associated Press. "The expectations have never been higher, so when officers do something like this, the disappointment can't be greater."

Some criminal justice experts say episodes such as these highlight an opportunity for police departments to try to reshape the unconscious mental processes that form “implicit bias” among officers, or discriminatory biases based on their implicit stereotypes or attitudes, as the Monitor reported last March in the wake of the initial San Francisco scandal.

“Implicit biases are fascinating because they produce personal behavior that diverges from someone’s endorsed principles and beliefs,” Phil Stinson assistant professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio told the Monitor.

“Research into implicit bias has shown that when a person with such implicit biases forms new personal connections with someone who is a member of the other group – such as a person of a different race – implicit attitudes and biases toward that other group change rapidly and dramatically,” he said.

This report uses materials from the Associated Press.

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